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Why DAT is eight years late

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Why DAT is eight years late

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1991, The Syracuse Newspapers

I got a review copy of a new DAT recording in the mail the other day.

It arrived eight years late.

Don't blame the post office; the tape was mailed out a few days before I got it.

Blame the hi-fi industry instead. The companies that make our audio components have been sitting on their hands for nearly a decade.

Why did they wait so long to bring us digital audio tapes that we can play in our homes? The answer could fill a book. We'll skip the background and get right to the point.

Digital audio tape recorders have been around for a long time. I made my first digital tape recording eight years ago. I used a PCM (pulse-code modulation) adapter plugged into my VCR. The adapter changed the digital signals into video frames.

PCM adapters became very popular at radio stations and recording studios and are still in wide use at sites like that. But they were designed for home use, and the hi-fi industry people I talked to back in 1983 said it wouldn't be long before audiophiles around the country had PCM units cabled into their VCRs.

Toshiba even came out with a VCR that had a PCM processor built in. And Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, the company that became famous creating remastered versions of best-selling LPs, even issued a bunch of digital recordings on videotape in the PCM format.

But home digital recording was a dodo in the '80s. PCM adapters cost too much for the average buyer ($800 to $1,500 or so), and good cassette decks were cheap. The best cassette decks were getting better all the time as Dolby C and dbx noise-reduction were introduced.

Even VCRs turned into audio gems. VHS Hi-Fi gave results almost as good as digital, at a much cheaper price.

Late in the decade, the Japanese electronics giants came up with a new kind of digital recorder. It used a tiny tape and had a great sound quality. But threats of lawsuits from American music publishers, worried that digital recorders would make piracy more common, kept the Japanese from bringing these recorders to North America for three years.

And now they are here. The new DAT (digital audio tape) recorders can be purchased at most electronics and hi-fi dealers.

But the public doesn't seem to care. Maybe it's because a lot of savvy audiophiles realize that Philips and Tandy are about to sell a better and cheaper digital recorder-one that can also play and record regular cassettes.

Maybe it's because common sense tells us that recordable compact discs are just around the corner. Why buy a digital tape recorder when a laser disc recorder makes so much more sense?

And maybe it's just a matter of weariness. Some things just plain change too quickly in today's world of consumer technology. It's hard enough to keep up with everything as it is.

That's how I feel. And that's why the little DAT tape that came in the mail will have to sit there a while. It may even sit there forever. By the time I'm ready for DAT, it might be nothing but a has-been.

And so, like you, I'm waiting and watching.

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